Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Book of Basketball

I recently finished reading The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons (aka The Sports Guy). To call it a book is a bit misleading; The Textbook of Basketball would be a more apt title. In more than 700 pages, Simmons strives to settle nearly every NBA argument. Who was better, Russell or Chamberlain? Russell. Do coaches really matter in the NBA? Only four have made a difference; Auerbach, Riley, Jackson, and Popovich. Who is the greatest player in NBA history? Jordan, duh. Who is the greatest team in NBA history? The 1986 Boston Celtics.

To be clear, I loved the NBA before I read this book; to learn about George Gervin's selfishness, Bill Walton's dysfunctional body, Elgin Baylor's hangtime, and every other bit of NBA minutia only tripled my love for the NBA. No detail goes uncovered. What stood out to me, in spite of the endless barrage of statistics on every page, was Simmons' emphasis of what statistics can't measure - "The Secret" as he calls it. "The secret of basketball is that it's not about basketball." I appreciated Simmons' devotion to and explanation of the truth that, for the most part, players who sublimate the temptation to pursue statistics and individual glory for the pursuit of the team are most successful in the NBA.

The glaring weakness of this book is Simmons' tendency towards misogynistic, "frat guy" writing. It didn't take long for his references to porn stars, lust, and infidelity to wear thin. The fact that Simmons is a "man's man" has made him beloved and as viewed as "one of us" by many sports fan. However, in the absence ESPN's watchful (read "censoring") eye evident in his regular column, the abundance of testosterone-filled anecdotes was overwhelming. Maybe it's just his act, a way for Simmons to build his island in a sea of sport writers, but I finished the book with two thoughts: "I LOVE the NBA" and "I feel bad for his wife." One more note; it took me a month to finish this book. I would recommend it for any sports fan, but be prepared to devote at least a month to wade through a book of this detail. It's worth it if you ask me.


Anonymous said...

Have you checked out Moneyball?
I read it for a sociology of sport class.
I've heard some of the similar attitudes towards this book also that you've expressed.

Joel said...

I read Moneyball a few years ago. It was a great book.